a citizen of the murder capital

An essay

Claudia Elissa Rosenthal Madrid
Brown University '18

This graffiti mural reads: "A child that reads will be an adult that thinks." The small black and white image to the right reads: "Peace cannot be achieved through violence." [1]

This graffiti mural reads: "A child that reads will be an adult that thinks." The small black and white image to the right reads: "Peace cannot be achieved through violence." [1]

Every day, I woke up at six in the morning to get ready for school. I showered, got dressed in my uniform, and prepared my things for the day. After breakfast, I picked up my backpack, and I got in the car to go to school. Similarly to many other students across the globe, I repeated this routine for fifteen years of my life, except for a pivotal difference: the car was bulletproof and an armed bodyguard sat beside me. To a foreigner, it might be hard to imagine a situation that would lead parents to place their children in this position. However, to a resident of the city known as the “murder capital of the world,” it is considered a rational, even natural course to take.  

Now, after almost two years of studying in an American city, where daily life is so vastly different, I often reflect on life in my home city and question the circumstances that had always been the norm for me. Through my program of study I have been exposed to countless academic articles and journals that are dedicated to life in countries like mine. In these I have found that several concepts and arguments constructed around specific Latin American cities share many parallels with San Pedro Sula, from which many comparisons can be drawn. It becomes easy for me to see the resemblance of the physical bisection of San Pedro Sula's layout with those of famous examples like Managua and São PauloSan Pedro Sula's economic inequality, like in many other Latin cities, is reflected in its geography. This leads to the overwhelming majority of the city's violent incidents to be segregated into its slums. 

In recent years, these increased violent incidents have made San Pedro Sula a major topic of articles highlighting urban violence and drug wars in Latin America. These articles are, for the most part, published by sources that seek to sensationalize tragedies, fostering terror among citizens of the city. Media sources also generally refrain from discussing the locations of violent incidents, which are largely centralized to the city's slums, producing an incorrect paradigm that brutality is omnipresent in the city. As a native Honduran, I have come to realize that it is vital to take into account the discrepancies between actual current statistics and the negative images of young people, dramatized by the media. It is no surprise that citizens feel terrified of leaving their homes when newspapers continue to publish daily accounts of gruesome murders around the city. 

While the way violence in San Pedro Sula is framed has established soaring levels of fear in its citizens and severe segregation in the city space, it has also served as a catalyst for a social transformation. Despite the drastic increase in social violence during the past two decades in San Pedro Sula, a contemporary movement involving urban art and patriotism has begun to dawn. While graffiti has always been a fundamental feature of San Pedro Sula, it has recently taken an interesting turn, exposing the newer generations’ feelings of fatigue after decades of violence. Only a few years back, graffiti consisted mostly of insults to politicians or the social elite for the burdens Hondurans have to tolerate. More recently, however, young groups of teenagers and university students have formed groups that create elaborate artistic pieces to articulate concerns for the whole nation, condemning violence and revitalizing a sense of patriotism. Furthermore, the government has been campaigning for events aimed at changing Honduras’ negative image and encouraging people to get rid of their fears by walking on the sidewalks, in order to discredit sources that exaggerate violence in the city. 

While it is heartening to see the visual manifestation of young Hondurans' hope, and proof of a shift towards a more positive collective attitude, there is certainly no denying that my city remains a dangerous place. Sadly, the patterns of violence in San Pedro Sula are similarly manifested in various Latin American countries.  For this reason, I urge Latino students to participate in conversations about these issues in Latin American communities and organizations throughout the continent. Initiating discussions on the multifaceted nature of violence in Latin America is the first step we must take for prosperity.


[1]  Rei Blinky. Digital Image. Atenas Hernandez. Atenas Hernandez, 8 July 2013. Web.


Any opinions expressed here are the author's own.